Jennifer is a Product Manager here at Coursera. After getting her degrees at Stanford she dove into education and tech and finally found Coursera. As a Product Manager, she works closely with engineers and designers, prioritizes feature requests, and delivers product roadmaps to make teaching on Coursera a great experience. Read more about her journey:
What led you to work at Coursera?
It was a winding path, but eventually I realized that EdTech is the perfect combination of my interests in education and technology.
I always thought that I wanted to be a teacher since I enjoyed my first jobs as a tutor and a camp counselor. I was inspired by my favorite high school teachers who really opened my mind to think about how and why people live so differently all over the world – that made me want to become a teacher so I could similarly open up people’s minds. I ended up studying philosophy and religion for my undergraduate and Master’s degrees at Stanford and really enjoyed it.
I’ve also always had a techie side to me. My dad is an engineer and we grew up with computers all around us, so I learned a lot from him and became comfortable with technology from an early age. After college, I joined Teach for America where I taught second grade at an elementary school in San Jose. My favorite month of teaching was when we had iPads in my classroom and that’s when I first became interested in EdTech. After teaching, I worked at a different startup but really missed education and that’s when I found Coursera, which was a great blend of both my interests.
What was your first role at Coursera?
My first position at Coursera was as a Partnership Manager. A Partnership Manager is like an account manager who acts as the main point of contact at Coursera for a portfolio of universities, with the goal of building strong relationships and helping both sides get the most value out of the partnership. In that role, I worked closely with professors and other university administrators to help them decide which courses to teach on Coursera and understand how teaching online is different than the way they’d taught on campus in the past.
My favorite part of the job was talking to my partners about our platform features and helping them figure out how to use our platform to teach most effectively. I quickly became the go-to product expert on my team, which eventually evolved into a full-time role where I acted as the liaison between partner-facing teams and the product team. That’s how I got so much experience working with product teams and realized I wanted to become a Product Manager, which is what I do now.
What do Product Managers need to know?
It really depends on the company, since the responsibilities of a Product Manager (PM) can vary. Some companies require PMs to have a technical background. Others put more emphasis on user experience design, and might not care whether PMs have engineering experience.
Here at Coursera, PMs don’t necessarily need to have a technical background. Even though I didn’t study computer science in college, I’ve studied some since then on Coursera and with my friends. Some of the courses I took that really helped me were CS106A from Stanford (I took it back when it was on iTunes), Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python) from University of Michigan, and Introduction to Databases (SQL) from Stanford. Even though I’m not an engineer, I know some basic concepts and feel comfortable using technical language enough to be able to communicate with my team. The ability to translate between technical and non-technical stakeholders, both internally and externally, has been incredibly useful in all my roles at Coursera, and especially as a PM.
What are some of the challenges of the job?
One of the biggest challenges a PM faces is having to say “no” to good ideas. There are so many good ideas about what we could build, but we don’t have infinite resources so we have to focus. Over the past few years at Coursera, I’ve built a feature request process to track all the feedback and ideas we hear from our partners, learners, and others so that they don’t get lost in the void. We collect all the feature requests in JIRA and meet with key stakeholders to prioritize the top requests every quarter. It’s really tough to get lots of different stakeholders to agree on what’s most important to fix or build, while also staying aligned with our company priorities. Ultimately, it’s the PM’s responsibility to decide what makes it onto our product roadmap.
What is the best part of working at Coursera?
I’ve been here for 4 and half years and the best thing is knowing that no matter what role I have, I’m contributing to our mission of expanding access to education. I believe that education is an important foundation for humanity because if we have more people who are educated, then we’ll have more people who are able to help solve the rest of the world’s problems.
I also love the people here. We have an incredibly collaborative and supportive culture at Coursera. We work hard to help each other on projects, and there are many projects that involve multiple teams, so we have to be good at cross-team collaboration. People are usually happy to answer a question or point you in the right direction. I found this to be true when I first joined, and even still today as I’m starting to work with a new product team.
Interested in becoming part of the Coursera team? Check out our Careers Page to learn more about available positions, company values, and perks and benefits of working at Coursera.